Not a dodgy rip off of some 1970s film about warring parents but a debate, discussion and critical comparison of my two biggest cardmaking purchases, in terms of cost and storage. I am very lucky that over the years I have been able to save up and purchase both a manual die cutter (a Cuttlebug and then a Sizzix Big Shot Plus) and an electronic cutter (Cricut personal cutter). When I was making a card the other day using the Cricut it got me thinking, which is better? Which would I give up if I had to? There’s a lot to consider, so I’ve broken it down into sections that were relevant to me and pitted them against each other. In the red corner we have the electronic cutter, and in the blue we have the manual cutter. Let the battle commence!
These obviously vary depending on what type of machine you buy, whether it is new or preloved, whether it comes as part of a bundle or standalone etc. Both of my machines were purchased through eBay. The Cricut was a small bundle with cutting mat, 2 cartridges and the machine for around £80, the Big Shot was around £100 with cutting plates but no extras. It’s quite hard to compare which was better value, but if I hadn’t already got a selection of cutting dies then I would have looked around for a bundle. As it was, it was only intended to replace my Cuttlebug which had sadly given up after 6 long years. It looks like the electronic cutter wins this round!
In this section I have included consumables as well as more permanent resources. Both machines have certain requirements in terms of consumables, the Big Shot has cutting plates which will need replacing eventually, though in 6 years I only bought one new set for the Cuttlebug so they aren’t something that needs to be regularly replaced. When I looked into it, they were around £20 for a set for the Big Shot Plus (which is slightly larger than A4). The Cricut has higher running costs as it requires both new blades and new cutting mats quite frequently. Both items cost around £10 for a set of 2, and are replaced on average once or twice a year. the life of the mats can be extended by using temporary adhesives, which I have managed to do successfully a few times now.
Both machines also require images to cut. The Big Shot uses metal dies, which vary in price from as little as 99p to as much as you are willing to pay! I have a few sets which I’ve bought, and they are becoming more common as gifts on papercraft magazines too.
The Cricut uses cartridges which have themed sets of images, fonts or both, along with different options for each image. (This is a real generalisation as each cartridge seems to have different features depending on the content.) The cartridges vary in price but as a guide they can be purchased from eBay for £10-£20 each. Other electronic cutters use digital images which can be downloaded or bought on CDs, and some let you design your own.
I think in the running costs category, the Big Shot wins as it needs minimal upkeep and can cut a lot of shapes with one set of cutting plates.
Ease of Use
Both machines take a little bit of getting to know, the Cricut has lots of settings to vary for different materials such as depth, pressure and speed. The Big Shot needs different combinations of plates for different types of dies, and the sandwich of plates, dies and cutting material has to be made up in specific ways for best results. In terms of positioning of images, the Big Shot is quite easy to use as you just place the die where you want it. If you want absolute precision then a tiny piece of washi tape can be used to stick the die to the paper to prevent any movements when sandwiching the plates. With the Cricut, you can move the starting point to wherever you like manually, or if attached to the computer you can position the images on the on screen cutting mat and the machine will replicate this. The only slight issue with this if done manually is that different images may have different starting points so you might get a surprise at the end.
Intricate designs come with their issues on both machines too. With the Big Shot, detailed dies (such as Tattered Lace) may need to be run through the machine twice, perhaps with a shim to ensure a clean cut. A pokey tool might also be required to remove the tiny pieces of paper from the die. The Cricut sometimes gives incomplete cuts on detailed images, particularly if a small size is selected. It is fairly simple to sort out these minor issues using a craft knife very carefully to follow the lines and remove any unwanted parts.
For me, the Big Shot wins this too, as it is easier to sort out any issues without worrying about settings and experimenting too much.
This is where the unique features of the cutters come into play more obviously. The Big Shot allows you to place images wherever you want, you can also cut through multiple layers and, by placing the card and die carefully, only partially cut a shape to make different types of cards. However, the size and shape is essentially fixed by the die you use. What I do love about the Big Shot Plus is the size-you can do a lot with the A4 size cutting area. You can also cut fabric, card and any other materials easily with a manual cutter.
The electronic cutter is a completely different ball game. Each cartridge has a large selection of fonts or images, with 6 different features and a range of sizes to choose from. This gives 1000s of potential options, and when it is connected to a computer you can pretty much adapt them however you like, for example flipping images, removing lines to make solid shapes, typing text to be cut using the fonts. The possibilities are pretty much endless, literally! (I am not currently using mine with a computer, but I don’t really feel limited by the options on the machine.) One thing which I find limits me with this machine is the 6 inch wide cutting area. There are much larger cutters available and if I had saved up more I’d have bought one. It’s a good size for cutting out toppers, but for options such as frames it would be nicer to have a larger cutting area. The Cricut definitely prefers to cut card; I have yet to try it on felt (or any other materials).
Overall in this category I think the Cricut wins, although the Big Shot is a close second.
Even though we’d all like to craft all of the time, it’s not possible, which means our treasured crafting possessions need to be stored. The Cricut is more compact to store as the machine itself folds up neatly. However, the cartridges take up a reasonable amount of space. The Big Shot is anything but compact, it takes up a huge space in my working area. Luckily, the dies are quite neat to pack away and store in a box in my craft cupboard
This one is definitely a draw!
Which one wins?
I’m still sitting on the fence about which machine is the overall winner. It genuinely depends what you are trying to achieve. If you want to make different base cards, cut out some mats to layer or want precision your way then the manual cutter is better. For cutting fonts, making detailed layered toppers and for flexibility with size then the electronic cutter is a winner. (Or if you are repeating the same image hundreds of times, as I did with my wedding stationery, then it will save you from getting an arm ache!)
With the electronic cutter, it is worth bearing in mind that it can go ‘out of date’ quite quickly and need updating through the computer, as well as new technology being released constantly which can mean the machine is quickly old news. That hasn’t been a problem for me so far, and I just use the cartridges as they are quite happily. I’m also blissfully ignorant of how ‘old fashioned’ my machine may or may not be now it is 3 and a half years old. If you buy cartridges preloved, they may have already been linked to a computer and this means you can’t link them to yours (different brands of electronic cutter work in different ways and some don’t rely on cartridges at all, which is worth considering). The manual cutter comes with none of these issues, it also doesn’t rely on electricity so you could quite happily keep crafting during a power cut if you fancied. However, your options are limited by which dies you purchase. The main reason I bought the Cricut was for cutting text, as for around £15 you get a font cartridge which can be cut in several sizes, whereas for similar money you get one metal die set which will cut the text only in that size.
If someone made me choose (and it would be absolute torture!) I would probably go for my manual cutter as I would just print text for my cards and use the die cutter to make layered mats. For now though, I will let both have a place in my crafting stash!
Which cutters do you use? Do you have both types? If you have both, which do you prefer? What would you do if someone made you choose between them?